cover image Got to Be Real: Four Original Love Stories

Got to Be Real: Four Original Love Stories

E. Lynn Harris. New American Library, $14 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-451-20223-9

In recent years, African-American women have occupied center stage in romantic fiction, but their supremacy is being hotly contested by a growing number of black male authors who seek to address the issues of love and lust from the other side of the sexual divide. Four of the most popular of this group bring their fictional firepower to a quartet of tales of the heart that often surprises and shocks, but occasionally sags under the weight of workmanlike prose and aimless plotting. Major's story ""Kenya and Amir"" is an entertaining urban fable of an artful Lothario who finds the perfect love and almost loses it when he can't resist his own macho image. Harris's worthy tale, ""Money Can't Buy Me Love,"" shows how love can restore even the most damaged heart when Jimmy, a gay doctor frustrated after a six-month drought of sex, receives a Valentine's Day gift from a pal. The story of healing and renewal showcases Harris's ability to move beyond sexual stereotyping to find the humanity in all of his characters. Channer's ""I'm Still Waiting"" is a complex riff on the contemporary music scene set against a lush Jamaican backdrop. Unfortunately, it spends as much time discussing pop musical trends as it does exploring its main characters. Possibly the weakest of the stories is Dickey's ""Caf Piel."" Bobby Davis, a struggling photographer, travels to Cabo San Lucas to collect a debt from John, a con man on the run. John talks him into doing one last job, shooting photos in Mexico for a tourist brochure, in order to collect his cash. Dickey tries to pump life into this familiar plot with Alejandria, a Mexican beauty who works for John. She and Bobby fall in love and together plot John's comeuppance. Their romance starts fast and furious but fizzles in the end, and lackluster execution never allows the story to soar. A groundbreaking effort in many respects, this memorable book provides a look at some of the biggest male names on the African-American literary scene trying their hand at short fiction in a collection that sometimes misfires but more often succeeds on a grand scale. (Jan.)